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Key Challenges Facing the Education Sector as Cloud Usage Rises

Following the outbreak of COVID-19, more than one-half of in-person education programs were postponed or canceled around the world. As a result, academic institutions are accelerating cloud adoption efforts to support demand for online and blended learning environments.

73% of respondents in the higher education sector reported an increase in the “rate of new product/new service introduction” as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gartner, Inc. 2021 CIO Agenda: A Higher Education Perspective

The rapid adoption of cloud computing by academic institutions and education technology organizations provides significant advantages when it comes to collaboration, efficiency, and scalability, but it also comes with a new set of challenges. It’s critical for organizations to understand the financial, security, and operational implications of the cloud and what steps they need to take to optimize their investment.

Benefits of cloud computing for education and digital learning

Cloud computing offers several benefits for academic institutions—students have the opportunity to access courses and research materials from any internet-connected device and collaborate with fellow students over projects. Similarly, educators can better monitor online coursework and assess each student’s progress without having to meet face-to-face.

Behind the scenes, online courses can be updated with the click of a mouse, student management is more efficient, collaboration tools can enhance cooperation and productivity between departments, and institutions don’t have to worry about managing their own servers or paying for maintenance and upkeep of on-premises data centers—they have access to nearly unlimited cloud-based storage with data copied across different locations to prevent data loss. This is also true for students who no longer need to purchase physical books or carry around external hard drives.

In short, the benefits of cloud computing in education can be boiled down to the following:

  • Improved collaboration and communication
  • Easier access to resources
  • Long-term cost savings
  • Less operational and management overhead
  • Scalability and flexibility

Potential challenges of cloud computing for the education sector

Despite its many benefits, the cloud also comes with its own set of challenges for educational institutions—all of which are compounded and accelerated with the rapid pace and scale of adoption. Below we’ll cover the primary challenges these organizations may face when it comes to cloud financial management, operations, and security and compliance, along with recommendations and solutions to help solve them.

Cloud financial management

Colleges and universities often rely on donations and tuition to pay for campus facilities and day-to-day operations. It’s critical that these organizations are not wasteful with the money they have and are making every effort to optimize where and how they’re spending for the greatest return on investment.

The potential to save money in the cloud, as compared to on-premises, is huge. But once organizations are up and running, many find that they’re not saving as much as they anticipated, or they’re even spending more than they were before. This doesn’t mean moving to the cloud is a mistake. Overspending in the cloud often stems from a few primary reasons:

  • The complexity of cloud pricing
  • Legacy solutions and processes for allocating resources and spend
  • Lack of governance and policies to keep costs in control
  • Insufficient or incomplete visibility into cloud resources and activity

This is not by any means a complete list, but it covers the primary reasons why we see organizations in the education sector struggle to keep cloud costs in check.

To help face these challenges and take control of cloud costs, we recommend the following resources:

Cloud security and compliance

Security is constantly top of mind for universities and academic institutions—they collect, host, and manage massive amounts of confidential data, including intellectual property, financial records, and the personal information of students and staff. Cybercriminals are actively looking to profit from this information by exploiting security vulnerabilities in the organization’s infrastructure and processes.

As criminals become more sophisticated in their abilities to exploit cloud misconfiguration vulnerabilities, security teams need a smarter approach to adhere to regulations and prevent security breaches. Organizations cannot afford to rely on traditional security methods that might’ve worked with on-premises infrastructure.

Security owners need to rethink classic security concepts and adopt approaches that better address the needs of a dynamic and distributed cloud infrastructure. This includes rethinking how security teams engage with developers and IT, identifying new security and compliance controls, and designing automated processes that help scale security best practices without compromising user experience or slowing down day-to-day operations.

To help academic institutions face cloud security challenges head-on, we recommend the following resources:

Cloud operations

The cloud enables education institutions to create a customized infrastructure that is more efficient and flexible, where they can quickly and easily scale up during peak usage times, (e.g. enrollment, back-to-school season, and graduation) and scale down over breaks when usage isn’t as high (spring break, winter holidays, summer, etc.).

However, managing fluctuations in cloud usage and juggling reservations and discounts across several different departments, cost centers, locations, and needs can be overwhelming, especially when administrators are more accustomed to the traditional way of managing data centers and physical servers.

Without holistic visibility into cloud activity or a centralized governance program, it’s not hard to see how cloud usage and spend can quickly get out of control. Cloud operations teams need to strike a delicate balance between giving cloud consumers what they need exactly when they need it, while also putting rules in place to govern usage. Continuous governance defines best practices, socializes them, then takes action when a policy or standard is violated. There are several methods for accomplishing continuous governance, including:

  • Creating guidelines and guardrails for efficient cloud operations
  • Setting policies and notifications for when assets drift from desired state
  • Establishing good tagging hygiene
  • Grouping all cloud assets by teams, owner, application, and business unit
  • Identifying misconfigured, unsanctioned, and non-standard assets, and rightsizing infrastructure accordingly
  • Establishing showback/chargeback
  • Integrate continuous governance to development and operations workflows

The complete list of cloud governance methods and best practices are detailed in our guide: Building a Successful Cloud Operations and Governance Practice. Additional resources to help optimize cloud operations for educational institutions can be seen here:

Cloud management solutions to consider

If this all still seems a bit overwhelming, don’t worry—you’re not alone! At CloudHealth, we’ve worked with thousands of organizations worldwide to effectively scale and govern their multi-cloud environments while keeping costs under control.

The CloudHealth platform provides complete visibility into cloud resources, enabling schools, universities, and education technology organizations to improve collaboration across departments, boost IT efficiency, and maximize the return on their cloud investment.

  • Move faster in your cloud migration process
  • Align business context to cloud data
  • Optimize resource cost and utilization
  • Centralize cloud governance

Hear it from our customers:

Our workloads tend to change with the school year, so the summer months are quieter. During the semester, workloads can easily fluctuate by two or three thousand servers in a day. Using CloudHealth has given value on two counts: cost and visibility. It allows us to see where we could optimize spend, including optimizing Reserved Instance purchases so we’re never underutilized.” — Jeff Julander, Senior Systems Administrator, Instructure

See how Instructure saved $2M with CloudHealth in the complete case study

CloudHealth has always been transparent. When I give feedback, I feel like it’s listened to. The CloudHealth team values customer input and takes action instead of just smiling and nodding.” — Josh Aldrige, Program Manager and Cloud Commander, PowerSchool

See how CloudHealth helped save PowerSchool $2.5M over a 12-month period in the complete case study

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